Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Berkeley High: More on eliminating the science lab periods

Well, the San Francisco Chronicle picked up on the story about the Berkeley science labs today, but avoided any discussion of the racial issues. For my previous post on this, see Berkeley High: Close racial achievement gap by cutting science labs classes. In this morning's SF Chron article, the reporter, Jill Tucker, did a good of explaining how the science lab periods work:
While most high school science classes incorporate labs into regular class time, Berkeley High requires most of its students to attend labs before or after school in the so-called zero or seventh periods.

That means showing up at 7:30 a.m. to, say, dissect frogs, or staying until 4:30 p.m. - additional class time that not surprisingly costs additional money.

Currently, students in regular or advanced science classes are required to take one lab class before or after school each week. Students in advanced placement courses take two.

And we find out the real problem is lack of attendance by underachievers:

Yet, while the labs typically are mandatory, students see them as extra time outside the school day, [advanced biology teacher Hilary] Rubin said.

On Monday, 14 of the 27 students in Qatami's lab participated. It was the first day back after winter break, but students said their classmates often skip it.

Zero and seventh periods cut into sleep, jobs, homework, sports and family responsibilities, students said. And they were supposed to be optional, not required.

In the previous article in the East Bay Express, we learn that the science labs were perceived to be "largely classes for white students". Now we know that:
1) the science labs are for all students, but,
2) many students do not put in the time and effort to attend the science labs.

So, why is this a racial issue?

Well, there are twice as many labs for the advanced science classes and we can guess that white kids are disproportionately enrolled in advanced science classes by looking at the racial achievement gap at Berkeley High. We see that for the year 2009 the following percents were at or above proficiency
English Language Arts
White 92%
Black 30.8%

White 87.1%
Black 31.3%

Is it also possible that it is disproportionately the white students who put in the time and effort to attend the science labs and it is disproportionately the black students who do not put in the time and effort to attend the labs? The article does have this paragraph:
But some struggling students don't always attend the extra labs - and ultimately fail the class, said advanced biology teacher Hilary Rubin. That wouldn't necessarily happen if the labs were incorporated into the school day.

Notice how the word "struggling" is used to refer to underperforming students, even in a situation where they appear to be slacking, i.e., not even attending the class at all, rather than making effort?

Another article in the SF Chron today discusses the honoring of the work of Frank Bayliss to get minority students to attend the science labs at San Francisco State University. Bayliss apparently raised funds to pay the students to attend the labs.

Maybe we could close the racial achievement gap at Berkeley High if we paid the black students to attend classes?

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